"Vocational training needs to be improved. This lack of certification and specialization is slowing down the development of Congolese subcontractors."

Gabriel Tshitende

GENERAL MANAGER, ELEPHANT TRADE

January 12, 2024

Can you introduce Elephant Trade? 

We launched Elephant Trade in 2014 and stay focused on the supply of goods, labor and services in the fields of electrical, instrumentation, and automation in the provision of electrical service. I'm an electrical engineer with a special interest in instrumentation and automation. Since we started, we've been teaching young people who only had their diplomas. Today, they can manage a project on their own. Our pride over the last 10 years has been in training young people. 

Taking Mutanda Mining Glencore as an example, they had serious problems with their instrumentation networks. They called on us, and with our specialists we carried out a study and started the work. Now, downtime linked to the instrumentation network has fallen from 90% to 10%. Downtime costs a lot of money in energy and production. When KCC launched the ore leaching plant, they had problems starting up some of the equipment. We went over there and spent a year transferring knowledge with their agents.

How do you assess the current state of the workforce in the DRC? 

The first response must be to address the DRC's weakness in this area. Universities do not provide training in the trades. My diploma as an electrician does not allow me to do certain electrical work, for example. Vocational training needs to be improved. This lack of certification and specialization is slowing down the development of Congolese subcontractors. 

Having identified this weakness, we have brought in expatriates at a ratio of one expatriate for every 10 Congolese. These expatriates come to teach the Congolese their expertise. This will enable us to be on track to achieve our objectives by 2024. The market is large. Depending on our customers' needs, we will select electricians, train them, certify them, and make them available to our customers. The further we go, the more the need for outside expertise diminishes as the Congolese become experts. Once the training has been completed, we send our staff abroad, to South Africa for example, to obtain internationally recognized certification.

What is the key to unlocking the untapped potential of the Congolese mining industry? 

For the moment, it's a marriage between the expatriate workforce and the Congolese. But this marriage must take place with the subcontractors, not the big mining companies. This facilitates the transfer of expertise. At the level of the big companies, where the number of expatriates is growing all the time, this transfer is impossible.

With enough time to reflect, has the latest law on sub-contractors reshaped that segment of the industry? 

Despite this law, fraud is common, especially among Chinese companies. They take their drivers and put them as priority shareholders, and this is a common practice.  But the problem is also on our side. Subcontracting is entrepreneurship; you need resources, a structure, and expertise. We have compatriots who open businesses without knowing what to do with them. The means must precede the creation, not the other way around. The government and the ARSP must regulate the subcontracting sector by checking the actions of expatriates, and for our part, we supervise subcontractors so that they can develop by helping them to obtain projects on their own scale.

How would you assess the state of the logistical and energy infrastructure in the DRC? 

Investment in the Congo revolves around the State. There are not enough private initiatives in our country. Congolese billionaires don't want to invest in energy production - even though it's authorized - because the procedures take years. Bureaucracy is an obstacle. Logistics too: To get from Lubumbashi to Kinshasa, a flight that normally takes two hours, I had to go via Nairobi! And Kenyan investors are interested in investing in the Congolese aviation sector, seeing this kind of opportunity. Energy producers are ready, but the procedure is a real bureaucratic hindrance.

What are your short-term growth objectives? 

We are currently based in Lubumbashi, Kolwezi and Kinshasa. We plan to expand outside the country, but before that, our aim is to be listed on the stock exchange. Once that's done, we can afford to operate internationally. 

Finally, the real priority will be local production. In our field, we use a lot of materials that come from outside. We need to start producing it locally. But to do that, we need electricity, raw materials, and certified staff. First, we need qualified staff, and this is where it starts.

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